As Advertising Week Europe descended on London for its fifth year, controversy was already in the air and there were some pretty meaty subjects on the agenda. From brand safety and fake news to Brexit and the future of the agency, here are the main themes from last week’s event:

Brand safety in the wake of YouTube controversy

With new revelations about brand ads appearing alongside extremist YouTube videos emerging just before the event, it was no surprise brand safety was a hot topic at Advertising Week Europe, particularly as advertisers from L’Oreal to HSBC were pulling ad spend from the video platform. Google’s Mark Brittin apologised to the brands affected and confirmed the company is committed to improving processes in three key areas. It will implement stricter policies around how it categorises content, make controls simpler for advertisers to use, and improve enforcement – acting more quickly when questionable content is flagged. The overriding feeling during the event was that these high-profile ad misplacement issues should be used to promote tighter brand safety controls across the entire industry.

Joining the fight against fake news

Fake news was another key theme at Advertising Week Europe, with The Independent announcing the launch of In Fact, an online section dedicated to fact checking and debunking dubious reporting, with the aim of preventing fake news from becoming normalised. At a session entitled ‘Navigating the New Abnormal: A Brand Survival Kit in a World of Fake News,’ Jim Waterson, politics editor UK at Buzzfeed, explained the term fake news covers a wide spectrum from satirical content that is not intended to mislead, to entirely made up content that is designed to deceive. He suggested the biggest danger in the UK is the middle-ground of manipulated content. This includes essentially factual stories with sensationalist headlines that stretch the facts to the absolute limit, which are disseminated via social media without being properly read.

The impact of Brexit on the advertising industry

Despite the Europe-wide nature of the event, its location in London inevitably led to discussions about the impact of leaving the EU on the UK advertising industry. Unfortunately London Mayor Sadiq Khan was prevented from delivering his message – that London is open for business – by the tragic events at Westminster the previous day. However, the event’s founder, Matt Scheckner, stated he hopes to keep Advertising Week Europe in the UK capital post Brexit, saying “London’s embrace of the creative industries is a differentiator between London and New York.” At a discussion on the impact Brexit may have on creative talent, panellists such a Chris Hirst, U.K. chairman and European CEO of Havas, and Nigel Carrington, vice-chancellor of the University of the Arts London, agreed it is vital international students are not classed as immigrants post-Brexit to avoid the UK losing access to breakthrough creative talent.

The evolution of the ad agency model

The future of the ad agency was another recurring theme during Advertising Week Europe, with the conversation focussed on moving from a fee structure to performance-related pay. During a panel discussion about the future of agencies, Jon Wilkins, the executive chairman of Karmarama, stated, “All of us are staring down the barrel of outcome-related payments.” Agencies came in for a hard time at the Marketing Society’s event, with Dave Trott warning the democratisation of the pitch process has not had the desired result of greater collaboration and that “the sole job of an agency is to keep a client happy,” while BT’s chief brand and marketing officer, Zaid Al Qassab, suggested there are too many agencies whose only objective is selling, and brands need agencies that can challenge them.

As Campaign suggested after the festival was over, the one thing that appeared to be missing from Advertising Week Europe was advertising. This year participants at the event appeared more focussed on the wider world trends impacting the advertising industry, than on advertising itself.

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